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Ohio’s child marriage law seen as too lenient; some fear girls are being exploited

Published: Thursday, September 07, 2017 @ 1:33 PM
By: Laura A. Bischoff - Columbus bureau

Judges in Ohio have approved thousands of marriages involving minors since 2000, and there is concern among advocates and other experts that Ohio’s marriage laws are too lenient, setting up young girls for failure and even exploitation, a Dayton Daily News examination found.

READ THE NEWSPAPER’S FULL INVESTIGATION HERE

Ohio law requires brides to be at least 16 and grooms to be at least 18, but exceptions are made for younger, pregnant teens if they have parental consent and juvenile court approval. That effectively means there is no legal minimum age for marriage in Ohio.

Fraidy Reiss, executive director of Unchained At Last, a national non-profit advocating for an end to child marriage, said the state’s marital laws put Ohio in the same company as Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“Shame on Ohio for having 16th century laws still on the books,” she said.

The newspaper examined records obtained from the Ohio Department of Health of marriages between 2000 and 2015. During that span, 4,443 girls age 17 or younger were married, including 59 who were 15 or younger. In virtually all of these cases, the girl married after getting pregnant or after delivery.

Among the marriages the newspaper examined was one involving Tessi Siders, now 29, who married a 48-year-old man after she got pregnant when she was 14. Although the marriage has survived, and they now have three children, most child marriages end in divorce, the newspaper found.

A 2012 national study revealed that 80 percent of child marriages do not last. The newspaper interviewed several judges who admitted being uncomfortable approving marriages they know have little chance of surviving.

Connecticut, New York and Texas each recently adopted laws to increase the minimum marriage age and several other states are considering legislation to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Unchained group.

Ohio is not one of them. Not a single bill has been introduced in the Ohio General Assembly to address the issue.

State Rep. Jeff Rezabek, R-Clayton, an attorney who practices juvenile and family law, said some of the cases of young, pregnant teens marrying older men point to problems in Ohio’s laws.

Rezabek said he isn’t committed to changing the law but will evaluate it.

“If you have, God forbid, a 13-, 14- or 15-year-old marrying somebody that is two, three, four times their age, I think that raises some questions as to why the judge or the other court players or the parents of a particular case were not seeking other remedies through the judicial system,” he said.